It’s hard at this point to remember how I got through those next few days. I was doing a lot of compartmentalizing, numbing myself against the pain and trying not to see what I didn’t want to see. And what I didn’t want to see most of all was Desiree hanging out with Bobby. She started sitting with him at lunch and he was walking her to and from class.
I finally got a phone call from her after school on Monday. Two full days since her date with Bobby.
Yeah, this wasn’t going to be awkward at all.
I tried to keep my voice light, but the tightness in my throat threatened to choke me. “So, how are you? How’d it go?”
I wanted to say, and ask, a lot of other things. And I also didn’t want to ask or say any of those things. I could feel my soft, vulnerable parts begin to retreat, holing up deeper inside me while the harder elements surrounded them.
Deep sigh from her side of the phone. “It was… well, I hated it but it wasn’t as bad as I was worried it would be. He didn’t push too much once I said ‘no’.”
“What did you have to say ‘no’ to?” My voice rose up in panic. “No, no, never mind, I don’t want to know… dammit, that fucking bastard.”
“Buddy, I’m sorry, you know I don’t want this, I don’t want him, I want you. I’m doing this for us, you know that, right?”
Yeah, I knew that, and at the same time it felt like betrayal. Wasn’t there always another way? She’d asked a question I didn’t really want to answer, the hurt feelings I had were making a stand.
“Buddy… please, talk to me, I can’t stand this if you won’t talk to me. I love you, Buddy, he doesn’t mean anything to me.” She was pleading with me, nothing like the take charge attitude she’d had in the gravel pit, she was begging me. Begging for what? Understanding? Forgiveness? Could I give her either of those right now?
“I know you’re doing what you think is right, I know you think this is the only way” Now that I’d started, I had to keep going. “I just believe that if we’d put our heads to it we could have come up with another solution.”
“Oh, really? What solution, Buddy? What are we going to do to keep Bobby from telling everyone that you’re my girlfriend? That we’re lezzies?” She snapped it out angrily, like a whip crack. “You think you’re so smart, you tell me how we keep Bobby from ruining our lives?”
I didn’t have an answer to that, that was the problem. I just knew I hated her solution, couldn’t stand it, wasn’t sure I could live with it. “I don’t know, Des! I just know that I love you and I don’t want to keep pretending I don’t. I hate that you are with him, even if you are pretending. Even if you are just doing it to keep him from talking.”
These were words that I’d been holding back for days, words that now felt like hand grenades and balls of barbed wire crowding my throat, eager to be set free. There was a destructive energy in them that I’d been afraid of allowing into the light but I was feeling reckless. Or maybe it was just too much to hold back anymore, I was hurting myself in my attempt to shield her from how I really felt about ‘the arrangement’.
“I hate this, Des. I understand that you’re afraid of everyone knowing that you love me, that we love each other, but imagine how it makes me feel to see you walking around with him. He taunts me, do you know that? He walks by with you and gives me that stupid smug look and mouths ‘lezzy’ at me. He’s rubbing my nose in it, he thinks he’s won. Every day it’s like getting a knife to the gut watching you two together.”
“He and I are not together, Buddy, I don’t care what it looks like!” She shouted defensively. “Why do you care what it looks like? You know the truth!”
“Yeah, why do I care what it looks like… Well, why do you care if people know you love me? Tell him to fuck off! We’ll have each other and even if people gave us shit, we’ll be together, we could take care of each other. Besides, we’d have Jamie and Sarah May on our side.”
“Right, I’d lose all my friends and get the freaks instead, awesome. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
“Oh, I see, my friends and I are the freaks. And you’re going out with a thick headed, bullying idiot instead of me because you care what people think. That’s lovely, Des. I guess now I know where I stand. You love me as long as no one else knows. Got it.”
We sat there in an acidic silence. Then I could hear her breathing hard, heard her sniff. Oh, shit, I made her cry, dammit. I gulped and struggled to keep my tears inside.
“So what are you saying, Buddy? Do you want to break up?”
I guess that was the logical question to ask, but as soon as I heard it, I thought my heart would lurch out of my chest, I was close to hyperventilating.
“No, Des, no.. I don’t want to break up with you.. it’s just.. dammit, this is hard, this is so fucking hard! You act like this is nothing, like it’s no big deal.”
“Buddy, baby, I know it’s not nothing, I know it’s a big deal. I’m sorry it hurts so much, it hurts me, too. I just … maybe I’m just not strong enough, not as strong as you. I don’t think I can handle everyone talking about me and losing my friends.”
And your place in high school society, I thought. Let’s not forget that your popularity ranking would drop like a lead weight if this scandal came out. It wasn’t a very nice thing to think, but it was real. It was the kind of thing Sarah May would point out. And I knew very well how it felt to have people talking about you in not so great ways.
“Buddy, please trust me. I love you, no matter what happens with Bobby. You’re the one I love.” I wanted to believe her. I did believe her but maybe the problem was I didn’t know if that was going to be enough for me. Was it enough to know she loved me more, if I wasn’t able to be with her? If I had to watch her with him?
I took a moment, “Ok, Des, I believe you. I know you love me. When can I see you? I need to kiss you, Des, hold you in my arms.”
The way she exhaled told me I wasn’t going to like her answer.
“Oh, baby, I’m not sure, soon, I promise. I’ve got a bunch of things to take care of and he wants to see me later. We’ll do it soon, baby, I promise.”
There was no reason to push, I could imagine her face right then, the way she set her jaw when she wasn’t going to be argued out of something. Or into something.
“Ok, just… I love you and the sooner the better, alright, babe?” I knew I needed to get off the phone soon, not just because I had stuff to do and it was almost dinner time, but because I couldn’t stand having her so close and feeling so far away at the same time. “I, uh, I need to get going. Homework and stuff.”
“Yeah, me, too. Love you, Buddy. See you soon. Goodnight.”
See you soon. It echoed in my ears as we hung up, kept coming back to me as I stared at my math homework and my dinner plate and the dishes I was supposed to be washing. See you soon was a promise and also a potential lie. Would she see me tomorrow or continue to train her eyes away from me in class and the hallways. Would she make time for me after school or would she keep letting Bobby monopolize her time. See you soon felt like an empty promise at that moment, empty and yet potent for it’s ability to cut into me every time the phrase popped into my mind.
I know she believed what she was saying, all along. She loved me and thought she could continue loving me while giving Bobby what he demanded as payment for his silence. She couldn’t see that he’d already won, he’d already ruined what we’d had. The light-heartedness, the sweet innocence of what we shared — and yes, even with the sex, there was an innocence — that sweetness, and the ease we had had with each other had been destroyed. Bobby had made it something horrible, something that had the potential to ruin our lives. That was Des’ viewpoint. I didn’t see it as ruin, I was pretty romantic, I thought true love was the most powerful substance in the world. I always thought we could make it together as long as we stuck together and loved each other. Bobby fucked that all up. He made it into a dirty secret, he turned her love for me into a bargaining chip. It seems obvious now that this would change me, change my romanticism into something more pragmatic and cynical but at the time I wasn’t looking into the future that far. I couldn’t see much past the fact that he’d taken my true love away and ruined everything. I was going to have to share her with him and no amount of ‘I love yous’ from her was going to make that any easier to live with.
High school suddenly looked an interminable sentence in hell. The halls had become potent with potential violence and grief from Bobby and his friends. I had previously looked forward to school, not just because of Des, but even before that because I enjoyed learning, I actually didn’t mind homework. But right then, after that phone call, I couldn’t stand the thought of going through those front doors the next morning.
And Bobby hadn’t even shown all of his hand yet.
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